Viewpoint : Marie-Claude Bibeau

For more than 50 years, Côte d’Ivoire and Canada have worked together in several areas. Canada supports every national polio vaccination campaign and provides vitamin A and deworming supplements to more than 1.3m Ivorian children. Each year, some 15 Ivorian youth receive a Canadian Francophonie Scholarship to pursue their post-secondary education in Canada. In 2018 our collaboration on regional security expanded as we co-chair the G7 Friends of the Gulf of Guinea Group.

We have also worked together, particularly since the launch of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, to strengthen the power of Ivorian women throughout their lives. I had the honour of visiting Côte d’Ivoire for the first time in August 2018. In the Indénié-Djuablin region, I met with women farmers working to make their crops of cassava and plantain into a foundation for prosperity and stability for their families. In the underprivileged commune of Yopougon in Abidjan, I had the chance to meet with strong and unifying women who were actively engaged in preventing conflict and encouraging social cohesion within their community.

In these determined Ivorian women, I saw the agents of change needed by their country during this period of economic slowdown in which Côte d’Ivoire pursues its path to emergence. Gender equality is a key issue in the fight against poverty and in achieving the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Women and girls who can develop their full potential are catalysts for peace, inclusion and prosperity in their society. However, beyond the social and human advances that it would bring, gender equality is quite simply a sound economic choice.

According to the World Bank, reducing discrimination against women and girls in Côte d’Ivoire could create economic benefits of $6bn to 10bn, or one-third to one-half of the country’s current revenue.

Reducing discrimination against Ivorian women means eliminating the obstacles that persist in their access to education and health care. That means fighting against early marriage and pregnancies. Approximately one-third of the country’s girls aged 15 to 19 have had at least one pregnancy. This also means improving women’s access to formal, well-paid work, and access to financing and land for women entrepreneurs. It means disrupting the traditional distribution of tasks within the family to enable women to access education and work.

The government is showing leadership in promoting gender equality. I am delighted that they recognise women as key players in the country’s economic success and that they are working to include them more and more in the country’s governance. The political landscape is allowing more and more women’s voices to be heard. In 2017, 20% of ministers in Côte d’Ivoire were women.

This was a vision that I was pleased to see was shared by the president of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, with whom I also met in Abidjan. He recognises women, as well as young people, as driving forces in the success of innumerable small businesses in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa 29% of young people are involved in new or emerging businesses. Young people represent 37% of the working age population in Africa, and their numbers continue to grow. The success of the younger population, particularly youth entrepreneurs, will play an important role in the emergence of Côte d’Ivoire, and in attracting foreign investment from countries such as Canada.

No country can truly move forward if it sets aside half of its talent and the vitality of its young people. Influential institutions in Africa, such as the African Union and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, assert the importance of women and youth and apply it in their development initiatives.